The debut album from the teaming of George Sansome from Granny’s Attic and Dovetail Trio’s Matt Quinn is quintessential traditional folk. Sheffield Park features just two voices, Sansome high, Quinn low, two instruments and a collection of songs from the canon, all bar one taken from the Roud archives.
Most will be familiar to devotees of the genre, kicking off with an acapella reading of Tyne Of Harrow, the oft interpreted tale of a highwayman who comes to an inevitable end. Perhaps less well-known, Sansome learnt Tailor In The Chest from a 1978 recording by Bandoggs, the song sometimes going by the title The Boatswain.
It spins the tale of how, having a dalliance while her husband’s at sea, the scallywag is forced to hid in the tea chest when he returns home unexpectedly, ending up being discovered and pressganged into going to sea. Backed by mandolin and guitar, it’s a suitably lively romp.
The slow swaying minstrel-styled, fingerpicked title track sees Quinn takes lead and accompanies on mandolin. While collected in Hampshire, it is a Yorkshire traditional about a young maid pining for her love, who naturally proves callously false, and winding up buried beneath a tree.
I Once Loved A Boy, another in the wandering minstrel manner, takes its tune from The Grey Hawk, goes by a variety of titles and was most notably recorded by Joan Baez in 1961, albeit with different lyrics from the version here. Wherein yet another besotted young lass finds her lover in another’s arms, though here generously holds no grudge against her; although there is the suggestion she does kill herself.
Things get jolly and bouncy for The Fox And The Grey Goose. Though perhaps not that jolly for the fox as, in this version, learnt from the repertoire of Oxfordshire’s Freda Palmer, rather than the vulvus brood having a lovely supper, he ends up being shot through the head by the farmer.
By contrast, and frankly atypical of the folk tradition, nothing untoward happens in the Night Visiting Song as the lovers get to spend the night together without interruption from parents or cuckolded spouses. The duo learnt the number from a 2019 recording by Scottish trio Shepheard, Spiers and Watson, though the lyrics here hew to Shepheard’s earlier version as I Must Away, Love.
Another well-worn number, I Live Not Where I Love is another unaccompanied close harmony arrangement, 19th century broadside based on a version collected from Robert Barratt in 1905. Departing from the Roud catalogue, Samsone’s percussive jazz-blues guitar style is showcased on My Son in Amerikay, a traditional tune with amusing lyrics by Ali McLoughlin, learnt via Andy Irvine about a mother in Co. Mayo. The title references how she addresses her letter to her offspring, though the song’s less a cautionary tale about incorrect labelling than a tribute to the American postal system who hold on to it until for years until he turns up enquiring.
It’s back then to traditional material for the sprightly picked Thornaby Woods, a tale of a fine night’s poaching in Nottinghamshire, despite some bumps in the road, with the poacher and his two mates even getting off the assizes. The first verse is taken from the singing of Elizabeth Webb from Kings Norton in Birmingham in 1906 and the others drawn from a Bodleian broadside.
Lost In A Wood, with its sparse mandolin backing, is a rework of the Babes In The Wood fairytale, originally recorded by The Copper Family, and then covered by Shirley Collins who subsequently adapted it as the version heard here, though still maintaining the tragic but sentimental ending.
Taken at a suitably melancholic troubadour pace with Quinn singing lead, it ends with the eight-minute Child Ballad The Death Of Andrew, an equally downbeat ditty wherein a young lass is seduced and persuaded to steal her father’s gold on the promise of marriage only to have the cad steal it and her clothes. She returns home naked and dying of a broken heart when dad gets angry.
In the original, her false suitor gets his just desserts by being killed by a wolf but that clearly wasn’t enough for Martin Carthy, whose adaptation has him being pursued by her seven brothers who break his arms legs and collar bone before leaving him (with the gold) naked to the wolves, throwing in a pithy message that “Men will strip you to the skin/But the wolves will strip you to the bone” as a sign off.
Given the current trend of reworking traditional folk songs in a contemporary musical setting, it’s refreshing to hear the duo staying true with readings that you might have heard in any dyed-in-the-wool folk club of the past half century.Mike Davies
Released April 28 on Grimdon Records on CD and digitally. Produced by Tim Wright.
1. Tyne Of Harrow
2. Tailor In The Tea Chest
3. Sheffield Park
4. I Once Loved A Boy
5. The Fox And The Grey Goose
6. Night Visiting Song
7. I Live Not Where I Love
8. My Son In Amerikay
9. Thornaby Woods
10. Lost In A Wood
11. The Death Of Andrew